If you are searching for natural Florida, look no further. A delightful slice of scenic “real” Florida awaits you on the state’s southwest coast, east of Sarasota.
Covering approximately 58 square miles of riverine swamp, wetlands, prairies, hammocks, and pinelands, Myakka River State Park is one of the state’s oldest and largest parks. In the 1930’s, the Civilian Conservation Corps was charged with developing the facilities, some of which are in use today.
Myakka is a park that has something for everyone. Visitors can hike, bike, fish, bird, boat, enjoy an old-fashioned tram ride, a canopy walk, or camp and picnic – all in the surroundings of one of the State’s most authentic Florida settings.
The best way to get an overview of Myakka is to stop at the Visitors Center and chat with the ranger. There’s a lot to do in the park and your choices will depend on what you enjoy the most. The Center provides educational exhibits, videos, maps and brochures on Myakka and its wildlife – especially alligators, a prime attraction to the park.
Upon leaving the Visitor Center, a glimpse of “old” Florida welcomes you while driving along Park Drive with towering oak trees draped with moss, and numerous stands of sabal palms, the state tree. Continuing along the road, you’ll notice a vast marsh before arriving at the Myakka Outpost where boat rides and tram tours begin. The Outpost also has canoes, kayaks, and bikes available for rent.
If you want to see wildlife, consider hiking a trail, riding the airboat, visiting the bird boardwalk or the weir (small overflow damn) at the south end of the Upper Myakka Lake, where wildlife always seems to be present.
Myakka is a delightful family park. When my son was small we went on the large airboats called the Gator Gal and Myakka Maiden. The older, rustic boats reminded me of the African Queen (the boat and movie with Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn). The scenic one-hour boat ride tours the Upper Myakka Lake, and is led by a knowledgeable captain. The guide will be on the lookout for wildlife, pointing out alligators, reciting facts and plenty of Myakka folklore. During the tourist season (winter/spring) you’ll want to go early to secure your ticket, as the tours often sell out.
When my son got older, we visited the popular Myakka Canopy, an 85-foot suspended bridge high in the tree top canopy. Visitors get a unique and special view of the subtropical hammock forest and its plant communities – especially the bromeliads and lichens. The adjoining 74-foot tower gives visitors a panorama of the park with a vista of prairies, wetlands and forest.
Also, consider the Myakka Wildlife Safari tram (available mid-December through end of May). The tours travel up an old road (built by the Civilian Conservation Corps) while riders view the wildlife and natural communities of pine flatwoods, prairies, marshes and hammocks.
Kayaking on the Myakka River
Designated as a Florida Wild and Scenic River, the Myakka gently flows through the park, giving paddlers a chance to see the variety of habitats that flourish there.
Recently, I enjoyed a two-hour kayak trip on the Myakka River beginning at the Upper Lake weir continuing to the South picnic area. I was with local Sarasota guide and naturalist, John Sarkozy of the Southeastern Littoral Society. [John’s phone number is 941.266.3614 and his schedule is on the Littoral Society’s website of www.sealitsoc.org.] It was an easy, leisurely paddle downstream (one way trip). The birding was fantastic and plentiful. Alligators were present, but not aggressive, just make sure to keep your distance and they won’t bother you.
The best time to kayak on the river is when the water level is low (winter & spring) and the wind is calm, which draws more birds to the shoreline. Also the alligators bask on the water’s edge soaking up the sun’s warmth during the cooler temperatures.
Myakka is great for birding. On my river trip, I spotted wood storks, black-necked stilts, great blue herons, snowy egrets, glossy ibis, tricolored herons, sandpipers, soseate spoonbills, sandhill cranes, limpkins, ospreys, egrets, little blue herons, white ibis, anhingas and double-crested cormorants. So, be sure to pack your binoculars.
Biking & Hiking
There are many trails to choose from depending on your time and ability. Again, get advice from the rangers regarding their recommendations. Depending on the time of year (especially rainy season), the trail conditions will vary.
Myakka River State Park has full facility or primitive campgrounds and five authentic old log cabins.
Looking for alligators?
• Take a boat ride – the captains will be on the look out
• Take the North Drive
• Try Alligator Point
• Stop at the Park bridge
• Hike behind the concession stand to the weir, Upper Myakka Lake
Best time to spot alligators:
• Cooler temperatures but not cold (below 65 degrees). The cooler temperatures bring them out to sun on the river bank.
• Rule #1: Never feed alligators (or any wildlife). It’s not only illegal but also dangerous. Feeding an alligator reduces their fear of humans
• The only place you can find alligators in the wild is the southeastern U.S.
• Alligators grow about a foot per year during the first six years
• Mating season is April-May signified by loud bellowing
• Alligators eat fish, turtles, small mammals, frogs, snakes, wading birds
Regardless of what you choose to do at Myakka, enjoy your visit. We are very lucky to have a park of this caliber in our state. I picked up a book at the park entitled Myakka, by P.J. Benshoff, who is a former ranger and now a park naturalist. I highly recommend it.
Real Florida awaits you at Myakka River State Park. Enjoy one of our state’s finest treasures. It’s well worth the trip.
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